To Do My Duty

Duty, Honor, Country is the motto of the United States Military Academy. Honor, Courage, Commitment is a modern motto of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines official, and long standing motto of Semper Fidelis, means Always Faithful.

There are more poll results out showing that Catholics are really disgruntled with the Church. Again, as a recent convert, I’m struck by the disconnect between the average lay Catholic’s opinions and the stark reality of being a Catholic Christian in the modern world.

But the crux of the matter is, it has never been easy to be a Catholic, ever. Being Catholic is not something for the timid, or the faint-hearted. Being Christian isn’t either, and for those Christians who profess an “easy way” to salvation, their professions can be summed up in one word: Delusional.

But Frank, you may say, I was born into the Church; I didn’t sign up for this outfit on my own, what about me? You are in the same boat as I am. In other words, you, just like me, are a convert too, and your conversion, just like mine, is an ongoing one.

Begging your pardon, I wrote once before that we weren’t promised a rose garden. I remember as I wandered around in the wilderness of this world, when I was pushing devotion to Christ as far out on the periphery of my daily life as possible, to the extent that it really was like the planet Pluto in my personal orbit of priorities, that this behavior of mine was the same as the word I pointed to above: delusional.

Duty doesn’t seem to me to be a word much revered in our culture any longer. It is right up there with sacrifice in it’s popularity.  Oh, we honor it in the breach, but we don’t necessarily honor it by actually putting it into practice. And this putting our duty as Christians into practice is why I am glad I’m a Catholic. Because, frankly, the Catholic Church has all of the spiritual and logistical structures in place to successfully take little Private First Classes (for Christ) like me all the way through this enlistment in this valley of tears called “life on earth.”

Prior to becoming a Catholic, as a Christian, I would have been brought up on charges of dereliction of duty and been in a whole heap of trouble as a result.  “Know thyself” and I know this for sure. Now, I just embrace the trouble and hold fast to the lifeline the Church has thrown me. And I give everything I’ve got to toeing the line.

I remember walking fire-watch one night in the squad bay of my platoon, in the middle of the night on Parris Island, looking out the window and gazing across the marshes of the wetlands that border Port Royal Sound thinking to myself What in the hell have I gotten myself into? This is unbelievably tough! All the books I read about this place did nothing to prepare me for the gritty reality of it. Lord Help! I was seventeen years old and I had only one goal: to become a Marine.

So I prayed for perseverance and I steeled my mind to endure the physical and mental trials that I had to endure in order to overcome the obstacles placed in front of me if I was to earn the title of Marine. I prayed a lot at Parris Island, and at Quantico, and at countless other places, that I would endure. And I knew that there was no guarantee that I would be physically unharmed during my career.  I figured being a Marine would kill me, or lead me to being killed, and I signed the dotted line anyway.

My experience isn’t your experience, because each one of us has to make our own way through our pilgrimage on earth. And we can’t earn our way into heaven either. But guess what? If you are a Catholic, you aren’t a civilian anymore. And if heaven is your goal, as it is mine, then this is where you want to be. But you also have to do your duty. Because you can’t have the one (heaven) without the other (duty). But don’t take my word for it. Check St. Paul from today’s readings,

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound easy to implement on my own.  I don’t have the willpower for it. Check this from Baruch from today’s Office of Readings (part of your logistical support system!). How do you spell duty? Starting with the word integrity. Look in the mirror.

Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord, have disobeyed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us. From the day when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice. And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today. Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but, each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God. (Baruch 1:15:22)

Does that sound like anyone you know, or anyplace you happen to be? That was me to a “T.” And still is me, if I let my guard down. As my patron Macarius says, pray “Lord help!” Baruch is another of the books that got tossed in the Reformation, but which was always in the Canon from the very beginning. What happens when we choose dereliction of duty?

And so the Lord has carried out the sentence which he passed on us, on our judges who governed Israel, on our kings and leaders, on the men of Israel and of Judah; what he did to Jerusalem has never been paralleled under the wide heavens – all this in conformity with what was written in the Law of Moses; we were all reduced to eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. Furthermore, he has handed them over into the power of all the kingdoms that surround us, to be loathed and avoided by all the neighbouring nations among whom he scattered them. Instead of being masters, they found themselves enslaved, because we had sinned against the Lord our God by not listening to his voice.(Baruch 2:1-5)

Why do we get complacent with what we’re told? Why don’t we walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? You know the answer—this is difficult! Baruch provides us a prayer though, and I intend to pray it.

Almighty Lord, God of Israel, a soul in anguish, a troubled heart now cries to you: Listen and have pity, Lord, for we have sinned in your sight. You sit enthroned forever, while we perish continually. ‘Almighty Lord, God of Israel, hear the prayer of the dead of Israel, of the sons of those who have sinned against you and have not listened to the voice of the Lord their God, hence the disasters that have seized on us. Do not call to mind the misdeeds of our ancestors, but remember instead your power and your name. You are indeed the Lord our God and we long to praise you, Lord, since you have put respect for you in our hearts to encourage us to call on your name. We long to praise you in our exile, for we have emptied our hearts of the evil inclinations of our ancestors who sinned against you. Look on us today, still in exile where you have dispersed us as something execrable, accursed, condemned, in punishment for all the misdeeds of our ancestors who had abandoned the Lord our God.

Welcome into the service of the Lord. It gets better, but not necessarily here on the planet. Which is why Our Lord taught us to pray,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

“As it is in heaven” because frankly it ain’t here.  Saddle up people! We’ve got a long march ahead of us.

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For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been wrestling with the angel named Vocation. In August, my wife and I sold our small publishing business, and just this week I completed all but the proofreading for the biggest writing project I’ve ever tackled. Meanwhile, Katie and both of our daughters are on the first steppingstones of new life paths. For our entire family, the future is an open book. The only thing I know is, I have to work.

Yes, sadly the publishing business did not (never did) reap much of a profit. Selling it was not a lucrative deal. So I will have to continue tending the bread ovens, mixing the dough, stoking the hardwood fires. The only thing that has become clear, or seems to have, is that I will work not as a literal baker, but as a writer.

You might think that, as someone halfway to age 118, I should have solved the vocation question for myself long ago. But my favorite nonfiction writer, Norman Maclean, saw it differently in the epigraph to his book Young Men and Fire, and so do I.

As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, Maclean wrote, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth’s crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.

Not standing pat. New things to love. Compassion is a form of love. Maclean (left) also wrote:

The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.

Fortunately, several enticing and/or well-paying projects loom ahead of me like islands in the fog. Today, I am going to a meeting about the most enticing of these options, so far anyway. Last week, looking ahead to my meeting today, I thought, “October 1. Let’s see whose day that is,” as in which saint. My heart grew instantly warmer inside my chest when I flipped the page on my Catholic desk calendar and saw that it is Thérèse’s day. Something about it seemed so right, so apropos. I felt safe, provided for. I immediately began saying a novena to Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Stumbling back into this blog last night, like not just the Prodigal Son but the Prodigal Father, I find that Frank has beat me to the St. Thérèse punch, and if there were ever a lousy, mixed metaphor, that has to be it. But then in the short century-plus since she left this earth and began showering us with flowers, people have never tired of writing about her, a Doctor of the Church with one slim book to her credit.

What struck me this morning and prompted this post was the selection from that slim book, her Story of a Soul, in today’s office of readings. Thérese wrestled with Vocation as well! Of course, she called this process a “longing for martyrdom,” which are words that have not yet fallen from my lips and aren’t likely to this side of the barroom door:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind. . . .

I have not yet found peace of mind. But I have a new prayer to steady my mind, a prayer to the Little Flower.

Because I Was a Stow-Away

Noah built an ark, and Christ built His Church. Hope floats.

For a long time, I was a stow-away aboard His Majesty’s ships. But a few years back, I stopped lurking in the shadows, approached the Captain of one of His frigates, and asked to be added to the rolls of His Majesty’s Fleet.

“All are welcome,” the Captain said. “Of course, you must swear allegiance to Our King and endeavor to follow His dictates and precepts,  which will change you from stem to stern. And, of course, you will be required to work in some capacity aboard the ship. Are you up for this laddie?”

“That is why I am here, sir,” I said with a faltering voice. “I have been a stow-away aboard His Majesty’s ships for years, stealing table scraps, and hiding in the bilge,” I confessed. “I came aboard your particular ship several years ago, and I have been hidden from your attention by one of the crew.”

He laughed heartily, and slapped me on the back and said, “My good fellow, I’ve known about you all along. You thought you escaped my attention, did you? Why, the entire Fleet knows about you, and all of your mates as well. His Majesty knows each one of those who comprise His ship’s company too, be they on the muster rolls, or not.”

I was amazed at this revelation. Stunned.

“Why, a few days before your arrival here,” he continued, “I received a dispatch from the Captain of the last ship you were a stow-away on. The Packet is quite fast, you see, and flies before the wind, unlike that slug of a brig that brought you to the port where you met up with us.”

“You mean you knew I have been on board your ship, sir?,” I stammered. I was amazed that I had not been successful in remaining hidden.

“Of course, and don’t trouble yourself about it. Now that you are going to be added to the rolls, though, I expect a full days work out of you each and every day. Our Majesty expects everyone to do their duty to the utmost of their ability. Is that understood?”

I knuckled my forehead and said in my most seamanlike voice, “Yes sir!”

“Very good, and welcome aboard Seaman Apprentice Weathers. You have much to learn, and much to do, so get on with it.”

And I have been endeavoring to do just that ever since.

 

Seal II (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I wrote a post about my Mustang’s harmonic balancer. It turned out that my own “harmonic balancer” was out of whack too.  When my pony sat fallow for all that time, the album that I’m about to share with you sat inside the cassette player. It, just like the car, sat there the whole time.

During the waiting period, I did a lot of work on my house. I did a lot of reading too. I was thinking about becoming a Catholic, but wasn’t committed to the idea…yet. It was the Summer of 2007, and I turned to the task of fixing my car. As I recounted in the post above, I took the ‘Stang to some pro’s. They had her fixed in no time, and on the way home from the shop, I put the top down, and turned the stereo on. And the following tunes began to play.

I had never really listened to the whole album before. I mean, not to the lyrics.  I was that fellow in the Pink Floyd song who was “comfortably numb,” see? But when these songs started playing, they hit me like a ton of bricks, lyrics and all.

I had always liked a couple of the songs, and sang them like a crazy man, occasionally, when blasting around the freeways of Los Angeles in the ‘Stang.  But after my readings and reflecting on my faith, and realizing whose harmonic balancer was really out of whack, coupled with hearing Seal sing these songs on this album, and in this order…well, let’s just say I crossed the “line of departure” and there was no turning back.

Does God work through the secular? I don’t have any doubt about it. After all, it is His world, you know.

Bring It On. This is the first song. You can go to YouTube directly for the lyrics too(for all of the songs below). I’ll just get out of Seal’s way now.

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Prayer for the Dying. You don’t have to have AIDS to be one of the dying. This is all of us.

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Dreaming in Metaphors. Why must we dream in metaphors?
Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand.

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Don’t Cry. I thought to myself, who is singing this? Our Lord, Our Lady? Both? What has the world done to me…

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Fast Changes. There is a time to wait, and a time to act. For me, it was time to act.

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Kiss From A Rose. I wrote a post on this one earlier here.

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People Asking Why. I mean, I was certainly asking this question, for a long time.

How do I get to where I’ve come from, now?
How will I paint this garden I’ve destroyed, green?
Can I get back to where I’ve come from?

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Newborn Friend. I remember thinking, Christmas in July!

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If I Could. I would explain it all if I could. Some things just can’t be put into words.

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I’m Alive. I heard this and the part of the lyrics you see here? I must have rewound that tape 20-25 times to make sure. Yep, I heard that right.

Your hands found me.
Blood on the cross,
And it changed my life.

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Bring It On(Reprise). Right back where we started. Get thee to RCIA!

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With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all. [Read more…]

Because On This Championship Ball Club, Everyone Can Play

Early on, before I officially started upon the path to becoming a Catholic, I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. I had already read Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ by the time I rolled around to Merton. In baseball terms, it was a strike-out for the side— the side of the Church, that is. Here is the play-by-play.

Blaise was the first pitch, thrown to the inside corner of the plate, and caught me looking. Looking up at the scoreboard, I saw the number “102” flash under the MPH sign. Gulp. Then, Thomas #1 came in like a fastball, forcing me to swing. But it was a slider and the bottom fell out of that pitch as I swung the bat. No contact at all. By this time, I was 0-2 in the count, and that isn’t where you want to be as a batter.

Because being 0-2 in the count plants some serious seeds of doubt in your mind. Consider, when I first got up to the plate, I was convinced that the Catholic Church, er ball club, had not a leg to stand on. I knew, just knew, that I could handle any and every pitch that it threw at me.

But now I was 0-2 in the count, so I just did what I had to do. I choked up on the bat, determined to make contact. That is when She (they have females in this league) threw me the Merton pitch. It was a killer rainbow curve that caught me just like this one,

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Wow. You don’t have to understand the language being verbally spoken in that video, to realize that this was an amazing last pitch, now, do you? Watching that replay over and over again in my own mind, I knew there was only one thing to do; call my agent and beg him to trade me to the same ball team that these guys played for. Thankfully, I swallowed my pride and the trade worked out. And now, here I am playing on the same team with the legends of the game.

The interesting thing about this here ball club (metaphor alert! read “the Catholic Church”) is that the players come from all over. That used to be unheard of in the big leagues at one time. Heck, some teams are still basically drawing their players from only one geographic area, or culture. But not this team.

Oh they tried that, early on, if you recall. Yeah, way back in the beginning when our first manager, a guy by the name of Peter, had it out with one of the star players on the squad, Paul. The row between these two in the clubhouse was about trying to make everybody who came from another place, fit the same exact mold of the original guys, even if they came from another culture altogether different. It’s all right there at the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives Center.

Man, the dust must have been flying in the dugout that day. But the two agreed that forcing everyone to adopt the same cultural practices of the country that the original players came from didn’t make sense because it wouldn’t help them to win ball games. They knew that the only culture that really mattered, is the Team’s culture. And our owners (there are Three of Them, though the uncanny thing is, They all think and act as One) take winning ball games very seriously.

I saw a story in the sports pages the other day that sounded like “Déjà vu, all over again” as another baseball great, named Yogi Berra, once remarked. A bunch of guys thinking that some people just can’t play baseball.  Period. Bats and gloves, and cleats are just too foreign to them, was the argument. What a load of hooey.

I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Because as best as I can recall it, and check the Rule Book for me on this one, the Owners say everybody can play baseball. No matter who you are, or what country or culture you come from. Let me see…yeah, here it is. This is from one of the Owners,

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19)

That Owner, named Jesus? He came down and played ball with everyone at one time. He was a major “game changer” back in the day and as hard as this is to believe, the “old game” players took him out and killed him for revolutionizing baseball. But the amazing thing is, He came back to life (I told you He was a “game changer”) and he gave us all that play above to carry out,  right before he headed back to the Owners’ Sky Box.

So let’s go play some baseball, huh? Stop worrying about if some can play the game and some can’t. Because it has been proven, over time that everyone can play on this ball club. And don’t forget this either, have fun out there.

To Be a Catholic Father

My friend Neil presented the following talk at our men’s group this morning. As a Catholic father, I found it very inspiring. 

Guest post by Neil Corcoran
Good Morning and thanks for having me this morning. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of St. Mary’s Men’s Group Saturday morning meetings over the past couple of years. And, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that it literally has only been a handful of meetings that I’ve attended. However, the reason why it’s been so few is because of the very topic I speak about to you this morning – FATHERHOOD. You see, I’m a father of seven children…

As you might imagine, Saturday mornings tend to be a mildly busy time for us in the Corcoran household. There’s soccer, basketball, softball, diapers, housework, food shopping, and the list goes on and on and on.… AND, there’s even an occasional early morning bike ride workout for Dad – imagine that? – One goal I have is to stay in relatively decent health and shape so that I have at least a few more years to continue to live out my vocation – being a husband and Father. So, please accept my apologies for not being a more “regular” member of your group…and at the same time please know I’m extremely grateful for your welcome this morning… I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

So, what are you going to hear about Fatherhood from me this morning? Well, perhaps let me first tell what you’re not going to hear. You are not going to hear an overly theological, scientific, or philosophical view about Catholic fatherhood. Likewise, you’re not going to get a history lesson on the role and contribution of Fathers since the beginning of time. And gentlemen, please don’t expect an in-depth study of Biblical quotes and citations on Fathers, or any reference to the so-called “great” or recognizable Fathers in our world today. I don’t mean to minimize any of that nor do I take it for granted. But to me, the vocation of Fatherhood – its meaning, its mission – is fairly simple and straight forward, not necessarily easy, but certainly clear. There’s really no need to overcomplicate it. The fact is Fatherhood has been and always will be, until the end of time, a vocation that can’t be understated in terms of its importance, its value, its contribution to the greater good. That said, what you are going to hear from me about – what I’d rather spend a bit of time attempting to do with you this morning – is sharing one man’s perspective, one’s man’s journey, and one man’s experience, complete with the joys and the challenges – on being a Father, A CATHOLIC FATHER…. today.

As I speak to you today, most of you who are Fathers – in fact I may venture to guess that all of you who are Fathers – have been Fathers longer than me. But, where you have me beat in longevity, I think I have you beat in quantity! And with that quantity, I think I can offer a qualified perspective. I became a Father close to 16 years ago when my wife Julie and I welcomed our first of seven children, Patrick, into the world. We were married at an age that’s considered young by today’s standards – we were 23 and 24 years old – and almost a year to the day of our first wedding anniversary, Patrick was born. A 7 and ½ pd, small bundle of love who is now approaching 16, is 6 feet tall, twice as wide as me, and dare I say… might be able to “take” the old man in a friendly father-son wrestling match in the driveway. Life sure does go by fast.

My journey to Fatherhood was for a time, heading towards, a different type, but certainly a no less important type of Fatherhood, the priesthood. For several years during my time at Providence College, I discerned the priesthood. And although I absolutely KNOW that God, in his Divine Providence, called me to the Fatherhood that I now live, I am forever grateful for that period in my life when I looked deeply into who I was, a child of God, and what it was that God was calling me to do. I grew increasingly closer to the Lord, to his son Jesus Christ, and I developed an enormous sense of respect and brotherly love for the Dominicans – the Friars of Providence College – and for all men who we call “priest”, who we call “Father”. I admire those men more than any others on the planet. That period of my life had a profound impact on me and my understanding of what it is to be called, to have vocation, and for God to have a “plan” for each of us. I remind myself daily that my vocation in life – Fatherhood – is in fact God’s plan.

I mentioned a few moments ago that my perspective on Fatherhood is a simple one, not always an easy one to live, but a simple one to understand. Let me explain. To me, to be a Father, a true Father, a Catholic Father in it’s most fundamental state is to be a Christ-like man, to bear witness to the love of Christ and our ultimate father, the Lord, and to be a man of compassion, love, and mercy, to our children, our wife, and all those around us.

When I look at St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, entrusted with the safety of the newborn Christ and our mother Mary, I see the very definition of Fatherhood; I see the epitome of what it means to be a Catholic Father. Soft spoken, trusting, trustful, faith-filled. We often hear a lot about Mary’s “Yes”… that is, the Virgin’s complete giving of herself to God…”Let it be done to me according to thy word”. It changed everything. Well, in the same way, Joseph gave his complete self to the Lord and his plan; he trusted the Lord, and in his own way gave his “Yes” to the Lord. What a role model St Joseph is for us, for all Fathers, for all men! I often try to think about what Joseph must have been thinking 2000 years ago, when presented with what could accurately be described as a stressful situation. I think of this situation, Joseph’s situation, and more importantly I think of his willing, selfless, and unsung response during the times when I’m faced with Fatherly stress, with the trials and tribulations and worries of Fatherhood, of providing for and sheltering 7 children, educating them, making the right choices, keeping them safe, parenting them to become faith-filled Catholics. I take great comfort in Joseph during these times – I look to follow his example, his YES, his trust of the Lord and the Lord’s plan for him.

Pope John Paul II once said about St. Joseph: …that, “What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man.”

For me, the most striking piece of Pope John Paul II’s characterization of St Joseph is that St. Joseph is great in Faith because he LISTENED.. he LISTENED to God. He isn’t great because he had all the answers, or thought he had all the answers, or thought he could tell those around him that he had the answers. He’s great because he listened. What a beautiful contrast to what the world and society would suggest to us today! In a world where manhood, masculinity, and by extension Fatherhood are too often measured by the volume of one’s voice, or perhaps the boldness or brashness of that voice – in other words, telling other people what to do, the notion that I’M in control here, I’M the boss, I’M in charge and I’ll be damned if anyone ELSE’S PLAN is going to take MY plan for MY life off track …. Well, in contrast to that, St Joseph provides us Catholic men, us Catholic Fathers with the truest example of Fatherhood – A fatherhood and a life rooted in and entirely dependent on Faith – Faith in the Lord – Faith that comes not through speaking, but through listening to and embracing the Lord and his plan. Faith and trust that trumps any plan we have for ourself – Faith that totally submits us to the Lord and puts HIM, not us, in charge. Gentlemen, as Catholic Fathers and Catholic men, let’s emulate St Joseph, carrying out our vocation with complete fidelity and selflessness.

Having said that, I must admit I have moments in my Fatherly vocation when I think “OK, I’ve got this under control, I can do this on my own – I don’t need any help… and then something goes sideways and I quickly realize that I failed to remember that “I NEED God – I NEED his help – I don’t have a chance without him”. For without my embracing his presence, I lose perspective on the situation, on the moment… I become out of balance, frustrated, stressed, or otherwise un-loving. And the crazy thing is that these moments and situation are not particularly stressful or monumental in and of themselves. It’s that I make them such because I lose sight of Christ. I compare this to situations which should seemingly be entirely stressful and anxious, like times our children were born. But, I approach those situations knowing I’m not in control – knowing it’s in God’s hands, not mine … and I feel completely at peace and in sync with God’s plan for me, my vocation of Fatherhood. My opportunity is to see God and his plan for me in everything, situations both big AND small, and completely submit to him ALL the time.

You know, we’re living in a different day and age today than we were even 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, the family with seven kids wasn’t considered the circus act that they are today. I must tell you – guys, I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard all the questions and comments, and gotten all the looks, the majority being ignorant and rude ones, about my family and its size. Things like: “You have 7 kids, Don’t you know what caused that?” or “You know, there’s ways to prevents that from happening”, or one of my favorites: “Are you DONE having kids?”, or the best of all time: “You must be either Irish or Catholic”. And my typical response to that one… “No, I’m actually Irish AND Catholic, and you must be Dumb AND Stupid”. I actually used to get angry in my earlier years when folks would comment on my family; I’d scream back at them, or otherwise write them off as someone I’d never speak to again. And then, at some point, I realized that most people who are asking those questions or making those comments don’t see Christ, don’t think they need him. And so, now, I pray for them, pray that they recognize their need for Christ. And for every 10 offensive comments I field, they are more than offset by the occasional comment that we get along the lines of “your family is beautiful”, “your kids are so good to each other”, or “you’re doing a great job”. Those go a long way. And although I take no satisfaction in hearing the many people say to me that they “wish they had had more children”, I usually just respond with, “Well then, you should have!”

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Then, and everyday, I remember my Father – he was a special man. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful Father, a Father ,who like St. Joseph, spoke when he was spoken to, led by example, and never wavered from his faith. My Dad died 10 years ago at the age of 63, far, far too young in my estimation. A son of Irish immigrant parents, he grew up in tough, Irish Catholic Charlestown, the 5th of 6th children, my Dad handed so much down to me… his work ethic, his love of Irish history and the Irish cause, his loyalty to family and friends, his interest in being a “student” of everything, his undying devotion to his wife – my Mom – and to me and my 5 brothers and sisters, but most of all he handed down to me his example of faith and fatherhood. And that’s a gift that I now owe to my three sons and those around me.

And so my brothers and fellow Fathers, the counsel and encouragement I’d offer to any Father, young or old, would be above all TO LOVE.

Love your wife and work at your marriage.
Love your kids and lead by example not by voice.
Create and protect family time as if your life depends on it – it actually does.
Be humble and selfless, Forgive, and be compassionate, and Pray.
And don’t ever expect a script or a playbook to be handed to you that will tell you how to be a good Father or how to act or what to do in certain situations. There is no such thing. Simply Love the Lord and his plan for you, and as St Joseph did so well, listen to the Lord.

Thank you for having me and for listening…. And To all the Fathers here this morning…. Happy Fathers Day!

Thanks to Neil Young (Music for Mondays)

Neil Young is in town! Neil Young is in town! That was what the sign on the Civic Auditorium said last Thursday night. It’s always big news when a big name comes to a small town. Not like I could go to the show or anything. My wife was hosting her book club meeting and although baby-sitting duty would kick me and the kids out of the house, I’m not quite ready to take them to a rock concert. I took them go-karting instead.

But I wanted to go to the show. So I did the next best thing. I hunted around for Neil Young songs on You Tube and started posting them on my Facebook page. See, I’ve always liked some of his songs, even when Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd  told me that I shouldn’t like him. Sorry, I couldn’t do that Ronnie, because Cinnamon Girl rocks, man. (I can’t believe my wife has never heard of it. Sheeeeeeesh!)

Even so, before I became a Catholic, I was more close-minded. Which means that after I became a Catholic I became more open-minded.  Whaat?! Yeah, sounds like an oxymoron to be an open-minded, yet orthodox follower of the faith doesn’t it? But that is the way it is.

You hadn’t noticed? I can’t explain it all to you here, music fans, because that is way beyond the scope of a post like this. Suffice it to say that Neil Young is an interesting character, a non-conformist, and yep, you guessed it,  a contrarian. Is he a Catholic? I have no idea. But is he godless? I don’t believe so. Heck, some people think he may even be a prophet. I really can’t say. I do know that a few videos here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of Neil’s artistic and philanthropic work. I just know that I like Neil Young’s music and his character.  He isn’t perfect, but he knows that too.

Now then, what we have here are the makings of the longest Music for Mondays posts ever at YIM Catholic. Good thing that it is a holiday (here in the US at least), because this way you can crank up the speakers and sing along with Neil (and me).  Just be careful, because some of his tunes will melt your speakers down to the wires, which I think is a good thing too.

Why hasn’t Neil ever been awarded a Grammy? That is the question I’m asking myself too. I don’t know (ed. this has since been rectified!). No matter, come along and follow me for a taste o’ Neil Young and remember the wise words of Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham: “Don’t think. It’s bad for the ball club.” Just enjoy these along with me.

First up, Neil’s folksy side:

Heart of Gold “Put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” Thankfully, before Neil headed for “the ditch,” he recorded a show for the BBC in London and played this new song for the audience. Check him out as he fumbles around, in a very charming and relaxed way, for the harmonica in the correct key (key of G, in case you want to blow along with him) to accompany the song. This was Neil’s first and only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts and it is a beauty.

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That song sold me on Neal almost immediately. This song sealed the deal. As if Neil would need a band—sheesh! At the same BBC show, Neil also played Old Man. He gives us some neat background information about how he wrote it for the old foreman of his ranch in California. Listen to the words, which Neil enunciates as well as Frank Sinatra ever could, and see if you hear something spiritual whispering into your ear. I know I do around about here,

Love lost, such a cost . . .

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Like a Hurricane. Webster likes finger-picking rock guitarists like Mark Knopfler. Finger-picking? Yep, Neil can do that too. Now, what does the song mean? Hey, this is art! Subject to interpretation, see? I know what it means to me and I know something else: it sounds great.

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This Note’s for You. Here Neil basically sticks a knife in the heart of the mainstream. This song and music video, which parodied the MTV/Corporate influence of the music industry and, dare I say it, the materialist culture that is still prevalent today.  Show it to your kids. I am. They didn’t want to, but MTV honored this song and video with the Music Video of the year Award in 1989.

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Just Singing a Song Won’t Change the World I saw an interview Neil gave on the Charlie Rose Show where he told Charlie that all he has been given is pure gift, a gift that he has to share. This video, shot with someone’s hand camera, was done at a benefit for the Bridge School that Neil and his wife founded to help developmentally challenged children in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Two of Neil’s children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

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Neil and his wife Pegi sing Four Strong Winds followed up by Neil alone on his When God Made Me performed at the benefit concert Live Aid Canada in 2005. Listen to the second song.  Does it make you wince at all? Sort of like good Catholic social teaching, it cuts to the quick.  Is the theology crystal clear? Probably not, but Neil isn’t a theologian either. But he isn’t an atheist either.

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OK, were moving into the “melt your speakers” portion of Neil’s oeuvre.  I’ve never seen the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man (1995) starring Johnny Depp.  But after this discovery, I will be. And soon!  Neil set up monitors all over his studio and followed the movie along in real time playing whatever he felt from what he saw on the screen and as the action moved him. He told Jarmuch that the film didn’t really need any music. But Jim begged him to write music to the film anyway. Neil has a gift, see, and thankfully he understands that. Thank God he is sharing it.

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Have you ever heard of the group Pearl Jam? Neil wrote this tune Rocking in the Free World and performed it here with Eddie Vedder & Co. back in 1993. In letter-box format no less, so you can also melt your computer screen too. And note, Neil doesn’t go trying to bash his trademark black Les Paul guitar into any amps either. Unlike the rookies from Pearl Jam. Neal just shows them the reason why his guitar is given top-billing. Ow…that dude can jam!

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Fifteen years later, Out of the Blue, live in 2008, where the now older man shows that as you start losing your hearing, just turn up the volume and add more distortion. Break out your ear plugs or crank your speakers is all I can say. And don’t forget to listen to the message too.  After all, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye and it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

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See? Like I said, we’ve barely scratched the surface, but that is all we have time for this week. This could turn into one of those Webster-esque multi-part posts for me very easily. Maybe next time, we’ll do Neil’s movies.

 

Because Sorrow Enriches Us

More than once, I’ve had my heart shattered. In my late teens, my first love left me without warning. In my late twenties, I lost my former college boyfriend to a drug overdose. In my late thirties, I nearly lost my beloved husband to a terror attack. Since then, until most recently, I have been haunted by a recurring dream that my wonderful, loyal Greg would not marry me, despite the life we’ve built together. The shock of nearly losing my husband has echoed in my heart. Only now, in my late forties, do I realize that the sorrows I’ve carried have woven themselves into the tapestry that is me. A recent encounter with my teen-aged self taught me that my sorrow has been a helpful companion. [Read more…]

Because of Minor Miracles III (zzzzz)

At the beginning of January, I started a series of posts about this blog, how it began and evolved. I wrote three pieces about it, this one, this one, and this one. Then I went to sleep. Maybe you did too. But with Allison joining Frank and me this weekend, and with a new format up and running (spiffy, no?), I think this blog has finally reached a form to stick with for a while. So let me wrap this up.

I think I left off with:

Chapter 5 — The Crazy Marine from the Old South Who May Be An Angel or Something
That would be Frank Weathers. As I’ve written somewhere, YIM Catholic was only a couple of months old when I started receiving e-mail blasts from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. When I paid attention, I was vaguely aware that they were from a “retired Marine” living in Tennessee. I figured “retired” meant ancient and “Tennessee” meant too much moonshine. Wrong on both counts. 

It turned out Frank was in his mid-40s, very knowledgeable, a convert like me, and a good writer to boot. I asked him to write a guest post and he wrote two, in an hour. About this time (Thanksgiving 2009), I was looking for help, divine or human, it didn’t matter. I felt tired writing alone each day and lonely (exposed to my own ignorance and readers’ reactions to it). I’m only half joking calling Frank an angel. I’m not sure what his former Drill Instructor would have said and don’t care.

The chemistry of the blog changed at once when I asked Frank to join and he agreed. It was fun again, and readers were picking up on the fun. I learned a whole new vocabulary. Frank was “covering my six” as YIMC’s co-pilot. He called me “Mav,” I called him “Merlin,” both “Top Gun” references. And he peppered me with the occasional “Bravo Zulu!” and “dumb civilian!”

Was this why I had started YIM Catholic? Absolutely not. Except that I had come to two conclusions: (1) I had run the table on all the reasons why I had become a Catholic, and (2) if this blog was going to continue it would have to transcend “Webster Bull.” I’m not the only Catholic in the world with good reasons to be one.

Chapter 6 — Building a Community
I read a piece on successful blogs about this time. It made several important points. One was, you’re better off finding people to help, especially writers. Check, I had Frank. Another point was, build a community. Interact with your readers. Comment on their comments. Understand what they want to see on your blog, or rather what they expect to see from your blog because only you can do it best, then do that.

I think we’ve been periodically successful sticking to this theme. We still fire off in all directions, and I suppose that’s one of the charming things about this space. But we definitely have made friends (and maybe a few enemies), and the friends have formed a community, at least in our own minds. When Warren Jewell doesn’t comment—or guest post—for a few days, we wonder where and how he is. When I get up in the morning, I look for Maria’s comments, because she seems to be up all night and very often has valuable things to say. We have friends with strange monikers, like Mujerlatina, EPG, and newguy40. I wouldn’t recognize any of them on the street, but we’d miss them if they didn’t come around now and then.

Blogging takes me outside my parish, outside my demographic, into the Universal Catholic Church (how about that Moses in Malaysia or Rose in India?). Come to think of it, the Universal Catholic Church is probably the first worldwide virtual community, dating to the year 33.

Chapter 7 — Yikes, It’s a Girl!
Which brings us to this weekend, when Allison Salerno has agreed to join Frank and me in a sort of unholy trinity of Catholic bloggers who love being Catholic. As the line at the top of this page suggests, this blog sometimes has had the sound and smell of a men’s locker room, what with all the towel-snapping and Bravo Zuluing and whatnot. Allison dared to barge in. What a fine writer! She is a cradle Catholic, unlike Frank and me. She is the mother of boys. I am the father of girls. Frank is father to both. We balance each other in many useful ways.

Furthermore, we all agree that there are more than enough Catholic blogs that obsess over politics, and we don’t want to be another. We all agree that what we do here is unlikely to make any of us a penny richer, and we agree that we don’t care. We agree that we love being Catholic—in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, or wherever we happen to be going to Mass—and we want people to share the love. Furthermore, we’re all in the Eastern Time Zone.

Personally, I believe that the best thing a Catholic can do to evangelize is not to argue with anyone but rather to pray, go to Mass, aim for holiness, and smile along the way. That’s what we seem to be doing here, with maybe some question about the holiness. Hang around, won’t you?

FOOTNOTE: Pardon the seemingly presumptous image of the Holy Family at the head of this post about Allison, Frank, and me. No, Allison is not Mary, and I’m not Jesus. But I have learned that you can’t go wrong with St. Joseph.  May the Holy Family bless our efforts here below.